This work was believed to have been commissioned in 1612 by the junior king or regent of Johor, the Yang Pertuan Di Hilir Raja Bongsu (later known as Sultan Abdullah Ma’ayah Syah). In 1613, the Johor capital of Batu Sawar was destroyed by Achehnese invaders and Raja Bongsu and his entire court was captured and exiled to Acheh. The author of Sejarah Melayu was Tun Bambang who wrote the bulk of it in Johor and completed it during his captivity in Aceh.
The subject matter covered in Sejarah Melayu included the founding of the kingdom of Melaka and its relationship with neighbouring kingdoms, the advent and spread of Islam in the region, the history of the royalty in the region as well as the administrative hierarchy of the Melaka kingdom and its successor states. As the Johor Sultanate was in a state of political crisis from 1612, the sultans were desperate for political legitimacy and political reasons motivated them to take liberties with their genealogy and historical dating.
The manuscripts were originally written in classical Malay using old Jawi script. Sejarah Melayu was listed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme International Register in 2001. The following is an excerpt taken from UNESCO’s description of this work:
“…[Sejarah Melayu] are unique in that they constitute the only available account of the history of the Malay Sultanate in the fifteenth and early sixteenth century. They are in the nature of what may be termed as historical literature conveying a historical narration on the origins, evolution and demise of a great Malay maritime empire, with its unique system of government, administration and politics. The Annals have universal appeal as they relate to a major transformation in the lives of the people of the Malay Archipelago from a Hindu-Malay matrix to an Islamic–Malay culture… The Annals are therefore a vital source of information for scholars in various fields including sociology, anthropology, economics, politics, international relations, linguistics and literature.”
2. UNESCO: Memory of the World Programme